(CN) - Two television producers say Fox ripped off their idea for a hidden-camera series in which a team of undercover investigators and decoys tempt potentially cheating lovers, branding it as the short-lived "Sex Decoy: Love Stings."
Jennifer Barlow and Chantal Coffey Boccaccio say they conceived the idea for "Love Decoys" in early 2005. The television producers "outlined a premise, a format, trade secrets, marketing strategies, production theories, and a three-act scene structure for a hidden-camera show," according to the copyright infringement action in Los Angeles District Court.
After registering "Love Decoys" with the Writer's Guild of America, the producers made a "sizzle real" - a video teaser used for promotion. They pitched the video to Sandra Hope, a private investigator who had founded the Mate Check PI service that dispatches "decoys" to investigate suspected cheaters.
With the help of producer Tom Klein, Barlow and Boccaccio say they had meetings with Sandra Hope, but were unable to reach an agreement.
In May 2006, they took their idea to Mark Wolper, another producer, who agreed "to help sell and produce the potential series."
"As an afterthought, plaintiffs decided to show Wolper the demo tape they had made for Sandra Hope, explaining that she was contractually tied to Tom Klein," the complaint says.
Wolper told the plaintiffs to negotiate the contract with Klein, who eventually transferred the "Sandra Hope Life Rights" to the "Wolper, Barlow and Boccaccio team."
"However, Wolper broke his promise and did not include Barlow and Boccaccio's names on the 'Transfer of Sandra Hope Rights Agreement,'" according to the complaint.
"Offended by this omission, Barlow and Boccaccio decided not to worry about it, as they knew Wolper had no right to produce the potential series without including them," they claim.
Despite lacking any rights to the show, Wolper produced "Love Decoys" and made Barlow and Boccaccio executive producers. Ultimately, however, the show never aired and Wolper earned between $75,000 and $100,000, according to the complaint.
Barlow and Boccaccio say they "never received a dime for their creative property."
"When plaintiffs pleaded for a small advance against the money they would eventually all agree upon, Wolper tried to trick plaintiffs into signing away all of their rights to the Love Decoys pilot and potential series," according to the complaint.
Barlow and Boccaccio say they refused Wolper's "grossly unfair" offer of $3,000 each to end the negotiation. The producers filed a claim against Wolper with the California Labor Board, and the parties reached a settlement agreement.
At the last minute, however, Wolper and his attorney tried to "strong-arm" the plaintiffs into signing over all the rights to "Love Decoys."
"Plaintiffs decided they would rather starve than be cheated," and refused to sign over the rights, the complaint says.
In 2009, "out of nowhere," the plaintiffs learned that Fox had debuted the virtually identical "Sex Decoy: Love Stings" on the Fox Reality Channel, before the network shuttered in 2010.
"Sex Decoy" featured investigator Sandra Hope and the same structure laid out in the original "Love Decoys" pilot.
Barlow and Boccaccio sued Fox Reality Channel, LLC, Mark Wolper, The Wolper Organization, Sandra Hope, Linda Ellman Productions, and 10 unknown defendants for copyright infringement, unfair competition, theft of trade secrets and contract claims. The producers are represented by E. Thomas Dunn of Tustin, Calif.
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